Even though I strive to get the best compositional shot in-camera. I do see ‘cropping’ as essential to my post editing workflow. For such a simple post edit technique, it can really enhance and improve composition of the image. I have also found cropping an image, be it small or in a creative sense can transform an image dramatically.
I like to view cropping as reframing the scene. The initial framing of the scene comes when you look through the viewfinder, then next when you have uploaded your images onto your computer for editing.
You get the chance and time to critically see if your image(s) needs cropping and what type is required. For example, there might be some distracting elements in the foreground that you missed when you looked through the viewfinder, or a horizon line isn’t quite as straight as it should be.
In this article, I’m going to illustrate the following reasons why you might crop your images in post-production:
- To straighten lines: keep the horizons even and the vertical lines vertical.
- To move your subject or object: a little more to the left, right, up or down.
- To trim away distracting elements, especially at the sides or the near foreground.
- To zoom in to show impact, especially portrait or head-shots.
- To use the rule of odds – instead of two subjects just use one.
- For creative cropping – rotate image, use perspective crop.
Let’s take the first example, I took this shot handheld when I should have used a tripod. An uneven horizon line does not make for a good composition. The eye is immediately drawn there, for the wrong reason.
However, this is easily remedied in most photo editing programs. As Adobe Photoshop CS6 is my go-to photo editing software. I will be referencing it for the rest of this article.
Click on the Crop Tool in the Tools panel. Go up to the the Options Bar where there is a dedicated Straighten button. Make sure this is selected, click and drag along the crooked horizon line. Release it, and Photoshop straightens the line and crops the image in one action! The same process can equally be applied to vertical lines.
The Crop Tool in Photoshop CS6 is impressive. It now works non-destructively. But you must make sure Delete Cropped Pixels isn’t ticked up in the Options Bar (leaving this box unticked keeps cropped portions which can be recovered later if needed).
Inside most editing programs there is usually a choice of overlay guides, based on traditional compositional concepts like the Rule of Thirds or the Golden Ratio. You can read more about Composition in this article: Easy Tips to Help Beginners Understand Composition The crop overlays are great visual guides for good compositional techniques and makes it much easier to crop your image. I usually set it to Rule of Thirds.
So in the next image, I wanted the focus of this shot to be entirely on the sunflowers. The background, although blurred, is still too distracting with the color of the garments worn by the passersby.
I started with one of the aspect ratio presets. These can be found under this tab Unconstrained. I selected 5 x 7.
I dragged the top right corner handle of the crop box down, and in towards the centre, to maintain this aspect ratio. By clicking on the image inside the crop box, I was able to move and reposition the image into place.
I am strong believer in using my feet to get close to the subject, or if you have a nice telephoto lens, then happy days. Unfortunately for my next shot, I didn’t have the option of either of the above.
I was at the zoo on a family outing, so I wasn’t taking dedicated shots for anyone. I was behind a barrier and a good 30 feet (approx.) away from the seals. I didn’t get time to think or compose for this shot. I just wanted to grab a shot of the seals.
The day was fantastic weather wise, and these seals were really enjoying the sunshine. I wanted to crop in tightly, just on the seals, but I had the megapixels to play with because I had a 24 megapixel camera with me, which can produce a 20×13” at 300 dpi print. The final crop for this image would give me 5.5×4” at 300 dpi print.
In this next shot, cropping in tight on a subject can convey more impact, especially for portrait shots. No two people reveal the same expression. As a photographer, some subjects are easier to capture an expression over others.
I wanted to convey Lucy looking at Emmet in an adoring fashion, I-only-have-eyes-for-you type of expression.
Another way to convey impact is to focus on the action. Here, in this shot below, I cropped out my other daughter, so that the focus was on my youngest daughter running to shore.
Cropping an image is a great way to apply the Rule of Odds. A good example of this is in the following shot. The two subjects are side-by-side. By cropping in tight on each subject, I have created two distinct head-shots from one single image.
Last but by not least, try and experiment with rotating your image to the left or right, and then cropping. This may be particularly useful with photos of tall buildings, where you want the focus to be on the height of the building.
I had taken the following photo in Berlin some years back from a boat on the river Spree. This modern building was quite impressive, but the reflection of the sky and clouds in the glass, caught my eye. It made for a nice abstract composition.
The Crop Tool in Photoshop has another feature, the Perspective Crop Tool. When you click on the Crop Tool and hold, a fly-out menu appears with four options. The Perspective Crop Tool is directly under the Crop Tool.
Starting at one corner, click and drag across to the other corner, and repeat around the lines of the window frame. A grid appears around where you have clicked within the image. Click the commit button at the top in the Options Bar, or press the enter key. Make finer adjustments by clicking back to the regular Crop Tool.
Cropping is, after-all, getting an alternative perspective to enhance a better composition.
To crop or not to crop, that is the question? Share your comments and images below please.
This week on dPS we’re featuring a series of articles about composition. Many different elements and ways to compose images for more impact. Check out the ones we’ve done so far: